Inspector for Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office now runs youth programs that helped him as a teen

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Inspector Chy Nou Lee’s journey has taken plenty of twists and turns.

Lee is an inspector with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. In fact, he’s one of the highest-ranking Hmong-American law enforcement officers in the state.

Today, Lee is in charge of the department’s “Youth Crime Prevention Initiatives,” meaning he has made it his life’s work to make positive connections with underserved youth in Ramsey County. That involves everything from hockey to literacy.

“We need to build that bridge between the community and law enforcement, and we need to do it from a positive angle,” he said.

Lee would be the one to do it because he knows where these kids are coming from. He grew up in public housing in St. Paul and, at age 11, got involved in a free Cub Scouts program sponsored by the county’s Youth Plus Program. He says his friendship with Sheriff Bob Fletcher launched him on the right path.

“From there, it was the connections I built,” Lee said. “I eventually became a volunteer with some of the literacy programs he started back then. Then I got hired as a community officer and my career in law enforcement just bloomed.”

Now, he’s running the Youth Plus Program that helped him so many years ago.

The day we interviewed him for this story, he was out on an ice rink, helping kids learn to love hockey. Among those on the ice was 14-year-old La Ler Paw, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and just picked up hockey when she moved to Minnesota two years ago.

“What I like best about hockey is meeting new people and hanging around new people,” she said.

These kids are learning a new sport, but Lee hopes what they are really learning is how to break barriers and forge a new path.

“It’s the lessons you learn along the way that you want to hand off to the next generation,” Lee said.

The Youth Plus Program relaunched in 2018 with just eight kids. Today, it has more than 50 and there is a waiting list for the hockey program.